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Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

28.11.2013 | 11:20am
ScienceUK uses more energy, more renewables, and still relies on fossil fuels as imports rise
SCIENCE | November 28. 2013. 11:20
UK uses more energy, more renewables, and still relies on fossil fuels as imports rise

The UK got a record share of electricity from renewable sources in April to June this year, the government’s latest statistics show. But that spike could be short-lived, and the UK remains largely dependent on fossil fuels for most of its energy.

Renewables record

A record 15.5 per cent of electricity was generated from renewable sources between April and June, replacing the previous record set in the three months before.

DECC Renewables bar chart

The government says the rise was partly due to more windfarms coming online, and high wind speeds keeping the turbines spinning – the green and purple chunks on the graph above. Onshore windfarms generated about 70 per cent more electricity than a year before, while offshore windfarm generation rose about 50 per cent.

But maintaining renewables’ share might not be possible, as a large part of the rise was down to a biomass power plant that has since been closed.

Tilbury coal power station had been converted to burn organic materials, such as wood. But the government subsequently announced that it would not be eligible for subsidies, and its operators – RWE npower – decided to close the plant.

The company also recently announced it would not be building what would have been the UK’s largest offshore windfarm, after all.

It remains to be seen how those decisions affect renewable electricity generation in the long run.

Fossil fuel dependence

Despite renewables’ electricity generation share growing, the UK is still dependent on fossil fuels for most of its energy. Almost 90 per cent of the UK’s energy (including heat and electricity) came from coal, gas, and oil between April and June – pretty much the same amount as a year before.

Increasingly, the UK is having to import its fuels – over 50 per cent between April and June, almost 10 per cent more than a year before.

Much of this rise was due to an increase in gas imports – the map below shows where it came from between April and June:

DECC stats gas map

After a brief spike in liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from Qatar last year, more of the UK’s gas is came through pipelines connected to Norway and the Netherlands in the early part of this year. LNG imports from Qatar were almost 10 per cent lower than year before, while imports from Norway and the Netherlands increased almost 18 per cent.

That’s potentially significant as increasing the UK’s energy security is one of the arguments put forward for developing a domestic shale gas industry. Those fears are likely to be assuaged somewhat if the UK can continue to ramp up imports from the continent, rather than relying on Qatar.

Domestic consumption increases

Energy consumption rose slightly over the past year, the new figures show: about one per cent. Household energy consumption – accounting for seasonal temperature changes – fell 2.6 per cent, however.

DECC consumption graph

The government has recently come under fire for failing to encourage take-up of its flagship energy efficiency scheme, the Green Deal.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced earlier this month that just over 1,000 households have now signed up for the energy saving scheme. It previously said it expected 10,000 households to have signed up by the end of the year.

The schemes will need to pick up pace if energy consumption is going to significantly reduce in the future.

More of the same

While the share of our electricity that comes from renewables, this recent rise could be short lived. The bigger picture shows the UK is still largely dependent on fossil fuels, and energy saving schemes are yet to really have an effect – though it is early days.


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